ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We're back with another episode of Play It Forward, where artists tell us about their music and the music that inspires them.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANGEL BAT DAWID'S "LONDON")
SHAPIRO: Last time we spoke with Devonte Hynes, the genre-spanning creative force behind Blood Orange. He told us why he's inspired by the free jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid. She plays piano and clarinet on this track, "London."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
DEVONTE HYNES: Oh, it's so beautiful. It feels like it melts all the things I love - this, like, classicism but this, like, loose freeness and jazz freeness. I just want to express my gratitude and thanks for creating such wonderful, beautiful and inspiring music and for just being someone who I look up to as a composer, as an artist, as a human. So yeah, I really just want to give thanks.
SHAPIRO: And Angel Bat Dawid joins us now.
Welcome to Play It Forward.
ANGEL BAT DAWID: Hi. Oh, my goodness. I'm so emotional right now.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Well, tell us about how you react to that sentiment from Dev Hynes.
BAT DAWID: (Crying) Such full emotions - like, for real, like, my heart is just so full, you know? 'Cause, like, when I wrote "London," I was so full of joy because I went there for my birthday, and all my friends were there. And I was in an Airbnb, and they had a piano in the house. And I'm like, I'm going to write a song about being in London. And I had that sitting on my phone just for so long. I never showed anybody it. I just would listen to it from time to time so that I could always get that same feeling. And just to hear someone from London and someone as respected as him say that in that he felt that same thing that I had felt and he listened to it, I'm just so full of emotion and so full of gratitude. It's incredible how music is and how powerful it is. You just never know. You just never know. That was on my phone for, like, the longest.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I was just thinking about that - the gift a musician has to be able to capture an emotion in sound. And then so much time later, someone else hears that sound, and the emotion is transmitted that you felt sitting at that piano at that Airbnb all that time ago.
BAT DAWID: Isn't that powerful? That's what my whole message is to the world. Like, just do music as often as you can.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BAT DAWID: Like drinking water and eating food, like, you should be doing music all the time. You don't have to learn the clarinet or piano. You can just do it in your home. Look how powerful that was.
SHAPIRO: OK. You're saying that, but you only devoted yourself full-time to music in your mid-30s, right?
BAT DAWID: Well, I've always done music my whole life...
BAT DAWID: ...You know, all my whole life. I think, like, all the obstacles and trials and patience have been leading up to this point. I knew music and I wanted to do it when I was 4 years old (ph). My dad took us to go see "Amadeus," and the music that blasted from that film affected me. Like...
SHAPIRO: The music of Mozart.
BAT DAWID: Yes, it was Mozart because the complexities and harmonies and stuff. In order to understand all those things, it takes discipline, and it takes study - lifelong discipline and study. And it takes trials and error, and I've had a lot of trials and errors (laughter).
SHAPIRO: It's so interesting that you talk about Mozart because Dev Hynes mentioned the balance between your classicism and your loose freeness and your improvisation.
BAT DAWID: Yeah. It was Mozart's "Clarinet Concerto" that made me really want to play the clarinet
SHAPIRO: Just so people can get the reference, let's hear just a bit of that Mozart "Clarinet Concerto."
(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART'S "CLARINET CONCERTO")
SHAPIRO: So how do you evolve from that kind of very formal classical music to the free jazz improvisation that you're so known for today?
BAT DAWID: That is called Chicago...
BAT DAWID: ...All right? So being in Chicago, being around musicians that were experimenting, especially Black musicians, they explored freeness. And being around them, going to jam sessions in the city, I learned how to do that, too. And it was like the perfect blend. It was like the extra sauce I needed in my musicianship because I was missing something. And that is why things didn't pop off for me earlier in my life, in my music career, because I was missing that key element. But that key element had to come at a specific time, space and place in order for it to be right, so there's a lot of patience that you have to have as a musician.
SHAPIRO: I know that Blackness is essential to your music. You have a song called "Black Family," where you chant, the Black family is the strongest institution in the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK FAMILY")
BAT DAWID: (Chanting) Black, black, (trilling) black, black.
SHAPIRO: Can you talk about why this is so important to all of the music that you make?
BAT DAWID: Well, the music and my identity are the same thing. I am the music. And I just so happen to be a Black woman who identifies strongly with my Black heritage. There's no like, let me stop being Black. I'm always Black, and with Black comes a lot of complexities. And so when I do music, that's not going to turn off. So that chant, the Black family is the strongest institution in the world - I believe in affirmations. If we collectively, as a planet globally, start speaking that, what's going to happen? The Black family is going to be strong.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK FAMILY")
BAT DAWID: (Chanting) The Black family is the strongest institution in the world.
SHAPIRO: Well, Angel Bat Dawid, it is your turn to Play It Forward. So tell us about a powerful musician who you would like us to go to next - somebody who inspires you, somebody who you're thankful for.
BAT DAWID: The incredible George Clinton.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WANT THE FUNK")
GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) Ow, we want the funk, give up the funk. Ow, we need the funk. We gotta have that funk.
SHAPIRO: All right, why did you choose him?
BAT DAWID: OK. First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day probably of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic, Parliament - our road trips, everything. He was a hero of my father.
BAT DAWID: You know, the music is just so good. You know, like, George Clinton always did his own thing, and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most.
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, give us a track of his that you turn to when you just need a little pick-me-up, one that you go to again and again.
BAT DAWID: Oh, my goodness - "Let Me Be."
(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENT SONG, "LET ME BE")
BAT DAWID: Oh, that's it. Woo (ph).
(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENT SONG, "LET ME BE")
SHAPIRO: Angel, what are you hearing as you listen to this? What's this doing for you?
BAT DAWID: Everything - y'all should see me up in here. I'm pantomiming all the words (ph).
BAT DAWID: George Clinton - he was just the ultimate arranger, producer - know how to put things together, all the elements. You know, it's so triumphant. That song gets me so hype.
SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to George Clinton next, so what would you like to say to him?
BAT DAWID: Well, George Clinton, I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. Like, I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime. Thank you, George Clinton.
SHAPIRO: Angel Bat Dawid - her latest album with her band The Brothahood is called "Live."
What a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.
BAT DAWID: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: And we are going to go to George Clinton, the architect of Parliament-Funkadelic, in the next episode of Play It Forward.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET ME BE")
CLINTON: (Singing) In a chair by the window...
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